Working on my text about death in the forest this morning, which involved both writing and a long walk to review the relevant sites. Death comes easy and hard in the normal order of forest, with its acceptance and exploitation of the cycle of decay and regeneration in nature and the practice of hunting. But there is also murder and accidental death (or possibly suicide) to consider in my forest.
Long after the war was over, the bodies of three young men, executed by the Germans, were found on the hillside above the Argent river. They represent the great number who, with all the desperate nonchalance of youth, took action to resist enemy occupation until such bitter ends as a blanket of dirt and leaves on a wooded slope. A stele marks the fate of Pierre Ruelen, Jean Volant and Emile Bérthou. Whenever I hear the explosion of a hunter’s gun echoing through the trees, I think of falling limbs with human faces.
In May 1919, the body of Victor Ségalen was found by his wife among the beech trees on top of a high granite outcrop, once the site of a medieval motte. He was apparently sitting propped against a tree with an open copy of Hamlet, having bled to death from a wound in his heel. This curiously staged scene – and his hurried burial avoiding an autopsy – has led many to think he took own life to put an end to the nervous depression and mysterious physical malady that had taken hold of his life.
Born in Brest in 1878, the profession of medical doctor took Ségalen on journeys that went far beyond the practical fact of travel. It was China that came to shape his remarkable inner life: he conducted archaeological digs there and became a Chinese language specialist, before returning to France. The cultural landscape of his experiences was manifested in poetry and texts (such as Stèles, published in 1914). He was in Huelgoat for his health, ironically, walking daily in the forest with a book and notebook, experiencing the profound sense of containment and aloneness offered by this special place. For a man who lived on the borderlands between reality and imagination, he chose a good place to die.